Inside city limits in southwest Edmonton, along both sides of the North Saskatchewan River, lies a unique and historically-significant jewel that few Edmontonians realize exists.
This Big Island-Woodbend Natural Area spans approximately 5.5 km of the North Saskatchewan River in southwestern Edmonton and includes a 2.5 km connecting ravine to the Sand Dunes Natural Area adjacent to Winterburn Road. It is over 400 hectares in size, largely unaltered by development, and holds some of Edmonton’s most diverse biophysical features, including the following:
– Two “islands”, now attached, as the North Saskatchewan River has changed its course: Big Island, at the northern end of the Natural Area, and “Bigger Island” (as we have named it) to the south.
– The Edmonton River Valley’s largest population of white-tailed and mule deer
– Moose, porcupines, birds, amphibians and other wildlife
– An old-growth white spruce forest that is more than 110 years old and a critical winter habitat for deer
– Edmonton’s largest riparian wetlands, fed by numerous contact springs along the river bank edge, with the largest and most diverse bird population in the river valley
– A spectacular narrow ravine cutting steeply through a pre-glacial channel, with a creek which flows underground as it reaches the river flats into the North Saskatchewan
– The longest backchannel in Edmonton’s river valley, over one kilometer in length, an important fish refugium
– Edmonton River Valley’s only natural dikes – long, linear piles of alluvium over 7 meters high, possibly rafted up against ice jams during past major flood events
– The Edmonton Sand Dunes Natural Area, one of the few places where the 21,000-hectare Stony Plain Dunefield reaches into the City, and which includes a rare blow-out feature. It was once home to Edmonton’s only native pine (Jackpine). This area is included in the restoration plans.
Encroaching urban sprawl is a threat to this area, its inhabitants, and the ability of all Edmontonians to enjoy the landscape of this region.
Currently, the Big Island Woodbend area is predominantly made up of privately-owned parcels of land. The North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society aims to work with the City of Edmonton and the River Valley Alliance in order to raise enough funds to buy the land and formally designate it as a conservation area. This move would make Edmonton’s river valley the largest urban natural area in Canada.
The Society envisions a Big Island Woodbend area that is home to walking and bike paths in the summer and skiing trails in the winter. We maintain a strong commitment to supporting conservation, education and scientific research.
The North Saskatchewan River Valley is an area that all people and creatures who live in Edmonton should be able to to cherish and enjoy. The time to act is now. We need you.